COVID Self-isolation Diary: Day 12

A grey, damp day, as the last couple of days have been. The garbage collectors, our unsung heroes, pass by with their truck, working in a light rain. Why does wet weather depress the spirits? In Australia, the driest continent, land of droughts and devastating bushfires, we should be singing for joy and dancing in the streets. (At 1.5 metres' distance, of course.)

Like so many others, I've been trying to understand the pattern of response to the novel-coronavirus epidemic by the right-wing governments currently in power through most of the world. Including the most prominent and most analyzed of all, president Trump.

I'm really not interested in the attempts to psycho-analyze Trump. What strikes me about this guy is not his bizarreness but his banality. In most respects he seems fully representative of his milieu. Rich white blokes in the US corporate elite can be expected to be competitive, prejudiced, narrow-minded and deeply selfish. Add a streak of resentment and some media skills, and you get something quite like the current Mr President.

So how can we understand the response of the corporate rich to the epidemic?  They don't care much about its impact on poor people, at home or abroad. They do care a lot about the value of their investments so they don't want Wall Street to tank. They think they are pretty safe and that if necessary their money can make them safer. And perhaps it can; I gather some of the New York rich have retreated already to wealthy enclaves in the hills, shipping supplies up by helicopter.

In an earlier generation the ethos of the ruling class in the rich English-speaking countries included a certain sense of public responsibility. It wasn't uniform, of course, but it was strong enough in the mid-twentieth century to make them accept the class compromises that gave us welfare states. That was the era of FDR and Eisenhower, Attlee and Macmillan, and out here in the periphery, Menzies and Playford. Over a couple of generations, that ethos has eroded and there is very little of it left. The willingness of the current corporate leadership - whether in finance, engineering, transport, manufacturing or fossil fuels directly - to trash the whole planet, knowing what is happening, is clear enough.

So when we look at the delays by right-wing governments in introducing hard measures to stop the epidemic, we certainly see ignorance and incompetence. (For a blow-by-blow narrative of the US case, see:
But we also see a strong motive - to protect Wall Street and the City of London, the share values of corporations and the bonuses of their CEOs, and the way of life for privileged groups that their profits support. Though of course using rhetoric about protecting 'the economy'. What that really meant was shown by the Morrison government in Australia, when it recently appointed a Commission to oversee the national COVID response. You'd expect it to be led by epidemiologists, healthcare, welfare and workforce specialists, wouldn't you?  Not one. Every single member of the Commission's board is a company director. Check it out.

But protecting the corporate economy isn't always straightforward. In fact a striking feature of the political response has been its hesitations and reversals. There are cross-currents and other pressures, including the political survival of the governments themselves. Given the patriarchal culture fostered by these regimes, there's a temptation to throw caution to the winds and opt for a strong-man, decisive-action approach. Johnson has gone farthest down that track. Trump tried it for a while, though he now seems to have veered back to the theme of protecting the economy. Meanwhile the virus itself seems immune to media appeals.

Enough. My Self-Isolation Reading today has included a 1975 book about rock music, Greil Marcus's Mystery Train, which I once found in a 2nd-hand bookshop. It has a wonderful essay about Elvis, that among other things explains why Elvis's early RCA recordings went beyond the Sun ones. And with that subversive thought, I'll sign off.

Back to Top